In November 2014, WVU freshman Nolan Burch died from alcohol poisoning during pledge hazing at the Kappa Sigma fraternity. The University responded by suspending all Greek activities on campus. Kappa Sigma was shut down. A police investigation led to criminal charges against two fraternity members.
The University responded by calling on fraternity leaders to do a better job policing their organizations and by holding the Greeks responsible when they fell short. The University tried to change the culture by emphasizing “working smart and playing smart.”
The University says the result has been a rise in student academics. However, the fraternity problems have persisted.
Wednesday night, WVU President E. Gordon Gee placed an immediate freeze on all fraternity activities. This latest crackdown comes after what University officials describe as an increasing number of undisclosed incidents that are cause for concern… even alarm.
Gee could have followed the lead of several other major institutions and simply shut down Greek life. By Gee’s own admission, hazing deaths, racist and sexist behavior and sexual assaults associated with fraternities and sororities have pushed Greek life to “a tipping point.”
But the President is going to try, yet again, to get fraternities squared away.
“We met with student leaders from our Fraternity and Sorority Life communities to discuss immediate actions, as well as long-term strategies for change,” Gee said in an open letter to the University. “I was pleased to see our students accept this opportunity with thoughtful dialogue and a commitment to be accountable to each other and to the University.”
The proposed “Plan for Excellence” includes reviewing all Greek organizations to see which ones should be allowed on campus, raising the minimum chapter average and pledge GPA to 3.0 by 2020, restricting the pledge period to four weeks, reducing the number of social events, requiring continuing education about sexual misconduct, hazing, alcohol and drugs, racism and prejudice, physical violence and community standards.
These and other steps will form the basis of a re-launch for Greek life beginning August 1, 2018.
One of the challenges is that students are on campus for only a short time. Good patterns of behavior that are established can quickly fade as a new group of students arrives on campus, unfamiliar with the reasons why their fraternity cannot and should not have an Animal House mentality.
Gee has managed to avoid becoming cynical during his long tenure in higher education. He is constantly appealing to the better angels of his students’ nature. Now it’s up to the fraternity and sorority members to decide whether they will rise to the level of behavior that is expected of them.